Montevallo overcomes double-digit deficit, advances to Elite Eight

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

MONTGOMERY – Despite falling behind by 11 points in the third quarter, the Montevallo Bulldogs were able to fight back and overcome the deficit against LAMP on Monday, Feb. 17, inside Garrett Coliseum to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Bulldogs, who led at 2-0 and not again until 56-55 late in the final quarter, were able to storm back behind great defense and strong offensive play from Michael Jones and JaBrian Sullens to pick up a 63-60 victory and advance past the Sweet 16 matchup.

“Our guys have been through so much this year that they knew to keep their composure,” head coach Greg Dickinson said of his team’s effort to fight back. “I think the games we played earlier this year helped us mature a lot when we’re down to fight back.”

Early in the game, however, Montevallo struggled to handle the hot shooting of LAMP, who made two 3-pointers and shot 7-15 from the floor in the opening quarter to take an early 16-13 lead.

In the second quarter, Michael Jones quickly tied the game at 16-16 with a 3-pointer, but LAMP answered with a deep shot from beyond the arc itself and played with the lead the rest of the quarter.

The eventually took a 10-point lead at 33-23, but luckily for the Bulldogs, Jones found his stroke and drained two more 3-pointers late in the half for the Bulldogs.

“I knew my shot was on in warmups,” Jones said after. “I put in preparation with a lot of shots the last week to get ready for this, so I was confident in my shot.”

And his shot helped the Bulldogs get within seven points at the break at 33-26, instead of down by 10.

“We knew they were going to be one of the best shooting teams we had faced all year so our goal was to chase them off the 3-point line, but it didn’t work so we got behind,” Dickinson said of the halftime deficit. “They caught fire on us, but we knew going into the second half just to keep our composure and stick with what we were doing and it was going to pay off.”

Early in the second half, Montevallo continued to play hard defensively, but LAMP was still taking advantage of its hot hand from the first half, which led to them eventually extending the lead to 11 points at 41-30.

At that point, it looked as if the Bulldogs were starting to lose confidence and the momentum was going to lead LAMP to a win.

But Montevallo was finally able to get back to the offensive gameplan that had worked so well all year when Sullens caught fire on the inside. He had seven points the rest of the quarter, including an and-1, while Orlando Burks hit a big 3-pointer, which helped the Bulldogs eventually come back and tie the game at 44-44 late in the quarter.

LAMP closed the period with a 3-pointer and a jumper to regain the lead at 49-44 heading to the final quarter, but Dickinson knew the game had changed at that point.

“We went into it knowing they would force us to shoot threes and clog the paint to take our big guys away,” he said. “We kind of fell for that a little bit in the first half. In the second half, we just decided to run our plays and run our system. Eventually, it was going to open the inside out and it did. We ran through it a couple of times and fed it inside and it finally worked in the third.”

That opened things up for the offense going to the final quarter.

After falling behind 51-44, Jones hit another 3-pointer to bring the Bulldogs back within four points. Shortly after, Jones picked up back-to-back steals, one of which led to two makes at the free throw line and the other of which came on an inbounds pass and led to an easy layup that gave Montevallo its first lead at 56-55 since it was 2-0.

“MJ kept us alive with his offense tonight,” Dickinson said. “He was matching their 3-point shooting.”

Following that run, LAMP quickly jumped back in front on a 3-pointer of its own, but Burks answered with one for Montevallo, which put the Bulldogs back in front for good.

Up 59-58, the defense went on to play lights out over the final two minutes, while Sullens grabbed several rebounds and went 4-4 from the free throw line.

“JaBrian struggled in the first half, but he knew how big he needed to be in the second half,” Dickinson said. “He was a monster for us inside. His presence alone is dominant.”

As for the defense, Jones knew his wasn’t up to par early, and it was something the Bulldogs had to change in the second half to win.

“We knew we had to get stops,” Jones said. “My defense wasn’t all that this game, but coach D stayed on me and the team locked in. Everybody on the team plays good defense.”

LAMP cut the deficit to one point at 61-60 with 1:52 late, but couldn’t get any closer, as Montevallo closed out the three-point win.

Jones finished the game 8-15 from the field, including 7-11 from beyond the arc and 2-2 from the free throw line, while also adding seven assists and two steals.

Sullens had a monster double-double performance with 22 points and 17 rebounds. He shot 9-14 from the field and 4-8 from the free throw line, but made four in a row to close out the win. Jamarius Carter added 10 rebounds and finished with six points.

Now, Montevallo will play either Montgomery Catholic or Booker T. Washington in the Elite Eight on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 5:45 p.m. The last time the Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight was 2017 when they lost 101-63 to Midfield.

“We’ve learned so much since then, even me as a coach,” Dickinson said. “Just making sure the little things get discussed before the game so we don’t have the same mistakes. These guys were either on the bench then or in the stands watching that game, and they saw what happened. This year’s group has a good chemistry, and our main goal is to keep that going into this game.”